I feel like someone is pressing their thumbs into my forehead just above my eyebrows, in and down, and somehow my eyebrows are trying to raise themselves up under this pressure, even though there is surely no need. Also, the voyage of the Dawn Treader may or may not be occurring at this very instant inside my stomach, with Eustace and Edmond and Lucy about to be catapulted from Narnia into the real world at any moment. I know, that’s a weird analogy, but it’s the only one I can think of presently, and it may be better than my usual manner of speaking freely about unpleasant bodily functions.
The reason I am feeling this way is because I have so far just had a very wonderful weekend, though not the kind you may be inferring from the above description. I, two other adults and seven teenagers just spent the last two days largely not eating. You’re not supposed to brag or even maybe talk about your spiritual exercises/disciplines, but I’m not. I just have to tell you a little bit about this one so I can give you an idea about what happened this weekend.
As you may know, the youth group at Now Church has been gearing up for some time to attempt World Vision’s “30-Hour Famine” project. World Vision has been raising funds for their relief work among impoverished people around the world, using this method, for decades. Basically, groups of teenagers band together and commit to not eating for 30 hours if people will sponsor them, and then the money gets sent to World Vision. The teens all spend most, if not all, of their 30 hours together in one place (often a church building), and play games and learn things about some of the people they may be helping.
Last year, fewer of you may remember, the Now Church youth group had an overnight vigil on Easter weekend. When I was planning the youth year back in September and trying to figure out how to fit in all our traditional activities with the new ones we wanted to initiate, it occurred to me that there might be something kind of apropos about doing a 30-hour fast and an Easter vigil at the same time. After all, God came and lived the life of a real human being alongside us, and suffered on our behalf, and, albeit in a much smaller, less cosmic way, the youth group would also be “suffering” on someone’s behalf. Last year’s vigil went from Waiting Saturday evening into Easter morning, but because we didn’t really sleep at all that night (its being a vigil and stuff), the kids were all wrecked for their family Easter celebrations the next day. So this year I decided we’d go from Good Friday into Waiting Saturday and everyone could go home and recover from fasting for at least 12 hours before eating lots of ham and other un-kosher delicacies on Resurrection Sunday.
Then things at Now-Church got really busy and, along with planning other things for other events, all I could really invest in preparation for the “Famine” was to keep telling kids to get sponsors, and occasionally to put up some sort of display in our “coffee hour” hall after church services. Which is how, on Tuesday this week, I found myself working something like 10 hours trying to put together a schedule for this thing.
But the time was really all in the details, because I found, as I went along, that the World Vision hunger-awareness activities with the Easter-vigil sort of activities went together better than I had ever hoped. Part of this might have been because I had decided to take a Biblical-salvation-history approach instead of last year’s Stations-of-the-Cross approach. So we could talk about the relational rift between humans and God that started with Adam and Eve, and how all of creation got messed up because of that, and then we could talk about some of the messed-up-ness, like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan.
Then I realised that not only was it Good Friday and the beginning of our 30-Hour Famine, but it was also Earth Day, and we had chosen as our local service project (recommended by World Vision) to pick up trash in the general Now-Church neighbourhood. I couldn’t get over how perfect this was–it made me so happy. Not that we made a huge dent in Our Fair City’s litter problem, but that Good Friday, the day that we celebrate an event which, if the Bible’s true, had an impact not just on people but on all of creation (on account of the Creator’s dying because of the brokenness), and here it was, falling on that hippie holiday that so many Christians I know scoff at. Personally, I didn’t think it could have been any better timed.
The rest of the topics of discussion and play were equally serendipitous. We could talk about contaminated water sources and how important water is to life, and then we could talk about God choosing Abraham and Moses because He wanted, for the blessing of the whole world, to set aside a special people through whom to flow as our uncontaminated source of life. We talked about the dangers children face from looters and kidnappers and traffickers after natural disasters, and we talked about the dangers the Israelites had faced before King David was put on the scene to solidify their nation, and how God promised someone in the line of David to free people ultimately from their oppressors.
After having built a case, both through educational games about children’s deprivations in Haiti, and through discussion of the rift between people and God, and how God kept reaching out to reconcile even though people keep trying to usurp His position, we watched The Passion of the Christ last night. I had never wanted to watch that movie again after the first time, and I felt exactly the same way after this, the second. (Incidentally, though? It’s really effective as an eating-deterrent.) But, given our debrief after it, I’d say it was positively impactful on the kids. It certainly does give a vivid depiction of what the ultimate end of human beings’ efforts to deify themselves by defacing the image of God, both in themselves and incarnate among them, looks like.
Today was a little more difficult. We ran ahead of schedule, ran out of activities and talks, and everyone was starting to feel not-quite-right for not having eaten in so long. But, much as I don’t want to brag about a spiritual exercise, I do want to brag about these kids I work with on a regular basis. They never cease to impress me, even when they’re lethargic or shy and unresponsive. These seven in particular spent 30 hours together, ingesting only juice and water, learning about difficult topics and reading a whole lot more Bible than they may be used to, but the Grump-o-meter never exceeded a 3 (if the maximum grumpitude is 10), everybody participated in everything, there may have been plenty of food jokes, but hardly anyone truly complained until the last hour, and they all had something intelligent to say about what they had learned through the experience at the end of it. Not only that, but we had a guest chaperone who liked them so much he’s planning on helping out again. And that was foodless!
I’m grateful for my job in spite of some of the inherent stressors, and I’m grateful for the youth group in particular. But I am more than grateful for Jesus, and the reminder of the promises He fulfilled, and how His resurrection life which you can be darn sure I’m celebrating tomorrow, gives us hope for the impossible and a deeper reason to reach out to those whose situations really are.